On the corner of Clay and 11th street in Old Oakland sits a spacious, clean, and contemporary Brazilian steakhouse. Owner Eli Nascimento, an experienced and hospitable man from Brasilia, already runs two other steakhouses in the Bay Area that are strictly Brazilian, but his latest venture, Galeto, brings Uptown Oakland a colorful combination of traditional Italian cooking and Brazilian churrascaria with roots that go back nearly 150 years.

Here’s a bit of history. Prior to its unification in 1861, Italy was a loose coalition of sovereign states operating independently, and without national identity. When times got tough following unification and Italians left in exodus for South America, they were ready and willing to establish a permanent culture in the New World.

In fact, research suggests that—with the exception of several isolated incidents—the assimilation of Italian immigrants in Brazil was remarkably peaceful. Today, 31 million (or 18% of Brazil’s population) descend from more than 1.4 million Italians that emigrated in the late 1800s. And even though the Italians integrated themselves fairly easily, they did not abandon their roots: there remains a heavy Italian presence in much of Brazilian culture.

Why is any of this relevant? Because at the heart of Italian culture is, of course, food. The southern regions of Brazil, where most Italians emigrated to, host a magnificent blend of Italian and Brazilian cuisine. For centuries, Brazilians had been grilling steak and pork on large skewers over charcoal in a style known as churrascaria. When Italian immigrants entered the scene, they brought with them traditions of pasta dishes, soups, salamis, and grilled rotisserie chicken.

Because the Italians were initially without a sophisticated system of livestock, they hunted wild passarinhadas (which are somewhat like quail). Italian immigrants and the Brazilians they mixed with became accustomed to eating this smaller bird. Because of this, when immigrants began to keep chicken readily available, they got into the habit of slaughtering the fowl young (so that it was a similar size to their beloved passarinhadas). Known as galeto, young marinated chicken quickly became a staple of the Brazilian diet. Moreover, because it was served rotisserie-style, it proved to be an excellent match to the rotating meat skewers of the churrascaria.

Upon entering Eli Nascimento’s Galeto, diners are greeted by a crew of incredibly friendly staff and an immense buffet of salad and cold appetizers. Bowls of quinoa salad, chicken salad, green olives, and trays of prosciutto and Italian salami lie waiting for the taking. Huge vats of white rice and warmed black beans sit aside the salad bar, also served help-yourself-style.

My personal favorite is the undoubtedly Brazilian: farinha (pictured above). Farinha is gritty flour made from finely-ground yucca root. It comes in a variety of granularities, and is sprinkled on rice and beans to add texture, flavor and starch to a meal. The flavor is subtle and difficult to describe, but it gives nuttiness to the rice. The grade of Galeto’s farinha is so fine that it melts in your mouth like butter.

Galeto hosts a flurry of sides. Pictured are the potato, chicken, quinoa, and mango salads.

Galeto hosts a flurry of sides. Pictured are the potato, chicken, quinoa, and mango salads.

Genuinely, the selection and quality of Galeto’s salad bar is nearly unparalleled. The ingredients are fresh, kept chilled, and offer true Brazilian authenticity. Still, though, this is not the reason I am here. I am here for meat.

Meat like tender chicken, marinated overnight in cilantro, thyme, and a handful of other aromatic herbs. Meat like juicy cuts of pork crusted with baked parmesan. And, of course, meat like the famous picanha.

The most renowned component of churrascaria, the picanha, is not a well-known cut of meat in America. Stateside, our butchers usually split what Brazilians call the picanha piece into several other cuts (like the loin). A complete picanha cut is the smaller end of the muscle that is opposite a tri-tip steak, and made of similar meat as the filet mignon. The meat is tender and thin, seasoned only with salt and natural juices. Elsewhere commonly served wrapped in bacon, Galeto’s picanha is unadorned and delicious. It celebrates the natural flavor of some of the best meat you can cut from a cow.

The restaurant’s namesake dish, galeto, comes from the Italian galletto, which pretty much translates to “little chicken.” Each skewer is half of a chicken: one leg, one thigh, a wing, and two pieces of breast. Every so often, each individual table is served its own full skewer. The skin is a perfect golden crisp and the meat is as tender as possible.

Grilled Chicken served piping hot on metal dishware.

Grilled Chicken is served piping hot on metal dishware.

Churrascaria dining is unique and may take first-time diners by surprise. The style of service is referred to as rodízio. Patrons pay a flat fee to dine, and are welcome to help themselves to as many sides, salads, and appetizers as they’d like. The focus of the churrascaria dining experience is a system where servers bring skewers of meat from the grill one at a time, and serve slices around the restaurant until all interested parties have had their fill.

Diners help the chef by grabbing the shavings of meat with pincers

Diners help out by grabbing the shavings of meat with small tongs.

The unending waves of skewers are pleasantly and temporarily interrupted by servings of Italian pasta dishes. During my visit, Eli personally interspersed plates of gnocchi, fettuccine Alfredo, mushroom ravioli and ricotta wrapped in prosciutto to Galeto’s diners. This is a seriously full meal—eat only a light lunch earlier in the day and get ready to devour!

An impressive alcohol list accompanies the courses of meat and appetizers. Galeto hosts a powerful selection of red and white wines, Spanish cava, and hyper-local craft beer as well as great house-made sangrias and cocktails. Again, all members of the staff are well-versed and happy to help diners pair their meals and drinks. It would be a remarkably tranquil spot to sit and sip a drink if not for the sizzling, tantalizing skewers of meat parading past you every few minutes.

Galeto is a welcome new addition to a building many Oakland residents will find familiar. The space was the home of well-liked LXC Noodle Bar and Le Cheval for several years. Le Cheval has moved just down the block and is still bustling, as several other busy restaurants line Clay Street as it runs towards Jack London Square. The neighborhood is still a little sleepy, but quickly developing a strong smattering of dining options.

Galeto’s glass walls peer onto the nice grass surrounding 1111 Broadway Center. The atmosphere of the restaurant is very relaxed, but not overly casual. A diner at once feels at home and also as if they are at a nice restaurant. Beautiful orchids and an exposed wall of soft-colored bricks help add to the welcoming feeling, as dark beams of wood and black metal fixtures certainly distinguish Galeto as contemporary.

Galeto itself is well lit, but great natural light fills the building from the street. There is not much Italian or Brazilian in the decor, but the atmosphere provides a perfect blend of familiarity and formality. Not surprisingly, Galeto is a good bet for just about any occasion: family night out, anniversary dinner, a date, a birthday, or just an adventurous night out! Make a reservation here.

Galeto Brazilian Grill & Steakhouse
1019 Clay Street
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 238-9388
http://www.galeto.com

 

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